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Blog June 30, 2021

How to Organize Important Documents at Home 101

Posted in How-to / By Jane Davis

Learning how to organize important documents at home matters a lot more than one might think. It doesn’t take long for them to get mixed up or lost somewhere, and that’s normally when they become needed. To avoid getting into awkward situations with lost documentation, make sure to read tips on how to organize important papers.

Why Does Organizing Important Documents Matter So Much?

We often treat essential paperwork as a one-off thing, like our birth certificates are only vital to us at birth. However, legal documents that are proof of identity are required whenever we make larger purchases or change our status in any way (getting married, transferring utilities, enrolling in college, buying a house, and many more examples.)

It’s vital to categorize each paper, especially if you end up having to relocate. With packing quickly, the chances of losing something, especially papers, are high. Misplacing important stuff increases moving stress and causes even the most organized people to panic. The most important things to do before relocating are organizing and decluttering everything. Hopefully, you’re considering taking some time to file documentation properly now.

If there’s a need for specific records, it’s better if you know where to find them

The Papers Everyone Should Keep, And How Long

There may be a ton of paper lying around the house, and you simply don’t want to bother with it while it’s not needed. This is counterintuitive, as the time when you don’t need paperwork might be perfect for categorizing it. Why? For a start, there’s no rush in finding the necessary documentation. Rushing means discarding and ignoring other vital papers, and you might understand how badly that could end.

We usually keep different types of records, and most are essential to some parts of our lives. The list isn’t long, but it’s good to take note, especially when you want to move and start creating a packing list.

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Personal and Legal Records Are The Most Important

Our legal records are, simply put, the essentials that should go everywhere with us. Types of personal documentation are birth certificates, government-issued identifications (IDs, passports, drivers’ licenses,) social security cards, and adoption and marriage certificates. Anything related to family is documentation that stays with us forever.

Medical Records and Hospital Bills Are Often Essential

Medical records can be kept indefinitely, or at least for a year, depending on the health issues. If anyone in the family has chronic health problems, their medical records should always be kept nearby, since lots of possibilities and activities depend on how healthy we are. In case of relocation, deciding where to live can come down to someone’s medical status.

Keeping hospital bills for a while is a good idea, as treatments are usually expensive. Having proof of payment for at least a year is recommended because it’ll help avoid conflicts with hospitals and other treatment facilities. Having that peace of mind will mean more freedom for relocating out of the city and fewer reasons to worry.

Financial Account Records and Tax Paperwork Should Be Kept Safe

Financial records aren’t necessary to have around for longer than a year or two. However, disability and unemployment records, pension and retirement plans, investment statements, and checks are vital financial records to keep for a while. In case of an office relocation, there needs to be information that proves you’re eligible to work in another city or state.

It’s recommended to keep tax returns, forms like 1099 and W-2, receipts, and records related to taxes for as long as seven years. This is a length of time that the IRS would typically check during an audit, so in short – you should definitely keep tax records. Essentially, next to legal and health records, tax forms are the documentation we should hold onto the longest.

Utility Bills Are Sometimes Important, Too

It happens too often that we rummage through piles of envelopes, and random utility bills from six months ago pop up. This is not a great example of properly storing any bills. Since most utilities arrive monthly in the mail, one month is the recommended period for keeping them.

Storing utility bills for up to six months is a good idea, too, because when you want to relocate, you should prove all your utilities have been paid and settled. They could also be helpful information for your new landlord while looking for a place to rent. Allowing them to see you regularly pay utilities can assure them you’re trustworthy. Maybe some bills appear higher than usual, and keeping them could help have everything explained and settled.

Finally, canceling utilities in your name should be done before relocating. If you forgot or overlooked that part, the new household will end up getting mail from previous residents (which is you,) and that would simply be annoying for both parties. If you’re receiving mail from the previous residents, don’t throw it out. Ask around for information on how to forward it to the right person.

Separate the Papers That Don’t Matter So Much

We haven’t mentioned receipts from shopping trips or online orders, but for a good reason. These are more or less trivial, even though they probably seem the opposite. In the worst-case scenario, replacing or returning items to a shop can be done within 30 days, but anyone who wants to do that would do it the next day. If you prefer to be safe, keep shopping receipts for like a month, or even better, photograph and save them to the cloud.

Receipts from supermarkets and stores are basically irrelevant. If you accidentally have some lying around the house while cleaning for relocation, feel free to throw them out. If you’re unsure which receipts are important and which aren’t, take a look at the video below to make sure you know what to get rid of.

How to Organize Important Documents at Home

Now we can talk about the important part, which is how to store important documents at home. The great thing about organizing piles of paper is that it can actually be fun. When you’re relocating with kids and don’t have the free hours to arrange documentation, making some colorful labels or stickers with the little ones can keep them busy and make you less stressed.

Another cool fact is that arranging files depends on preference more often than a specific organizational rulebook. There are options to categorize everything by importance, color, numbers, alphabet, or whatever you like because the choices can be endless if you’re imaginative.

The Best Ways to File and Categorize Documentation

The best ways to categorize anything are usually those that follow a certain logic or pattern. It’d be great to have a specific filing cabinet for all documentation and designate each drawer for a different category. For example, the records you use or need the most often can go into the top drawer and be accessible at all times. Categorizing them from top to bottom by importance is a good way to keep tabs on essential records.

While a filing cabinet is the best, you probably wonder how to keep important documents organized in other ways. You can purchase file folders and paper organizers at a home office store and keep them on a desk or in a storage cabinet of any kind. If you’re feeling creative or prefer DIY, there are ways to make file folders and organizers out of basically anything.

Some other recommended filing methods are:

  • Color-coding – visual cues help remember things much better than other methods, which is why color-based categorizing is typically the best,
  • Numerical sorting – with this method, it’s good to determine a number for each category of documentation and arrange them in numerical order,
  • Alphabetical sorting – you can arrange records alphabetically, by categories (bank statements, cable bills, house mortgage, and so on,)
  • The five-category method – this method is quite common. The five categories are Action (files that require immediate action,) Archive (everything in safe-keeping that you don’t always need,) Household (anything pertinent to housekeeping and family,) Recycle (anything for recycling,) and Shred (things that contain your personal information but aren’t valid or of use anymore.)

The question that also matters is where to store important documents once they’ve been organized, and if you don’t have a filing cabinet, they can sit on your desk, on shelves, in a closet or storage cabinet, or in a box. This also depends on you and your preferences. If the feeling is that documentation is safer in your bedroom, keep it there. We recommend designating a small office or documentation corner in a room where you do most of your work.

Color-coding or numeration are just some options for categorizing

How to Organize Documents for Moving

You’ve packed the makeup, the boxes for packing the kids’ toys are all there, and you’ve thought about everything except documentation. In this case, the best tip for transporting records safely is to pack them with you. You may not worry about them while packaging fragile items or attempting to move the big stuff out of the house, but at least keep them in mind for later. If you’ve hired cross-country movers for their packaging services, remember they won’t handle documentation unless asked.

It’s much more recommended that all of your files get handled only by you. Pack it all in a separate box and bring it with you because it’s one of the first things you’ll need when settling into the new house. If packing to move in a hurry, put it into a laptop bag or any kind of shoulder bag to keep it close by. If there’s time to plan out everything, consider getting a folder bag with separate compartments and arrange the records from most to least important.

Suppose you want to know how to categorize documentation just after moving to a new place. In that case, we’d recommend getting through the more important stuff first because relocating safely should be a priority. Keep documentation in a safe place while unpacking, and then designate an area to put them in, temporarily or permanently, it’s up to you.

When relocating, put all documentation in one place

Do Long-Distance Movers Handle Documentation and Records?

While paying for long-distance moving services entails getting the best moving service there is, long-distance movers probably can’t tell you how to store important documents during relocation. They can provide insight into properly getting ready for a move or pack your paintings and help you pack electronics. Still, when it comes to documentation, workers at a long-distance moving company would likely advise packing it with you.

What you’ll get from East Coast movers and West Coast movers alike is a storage service, in many cases insurance for relocation, and even auto transport for your car. Most often, the only worry with hiring cross-country moving services is which movers to hire. They may advise you on preparing a box full of essential items for the first weeks of living at the new place, and documentation should be packed in that box.

Movers typically don’t arrange or handle documentation

Don’t Let Laziness Stop You From Creating Order At Home

Finally, if all of this feels like too much work and you’d much rather just put all the files you have in a drawer, that’s fine, too. However, leaving documentation unsorted and piled up is just going to cause a lot of trouble in the long run. It’s much better to take a day or two, learn ways to categorize records, and just go for it. You’ll be very proud of yourself for trying, and once you start making new friends, your DIY skills can make for a great icebreaker.

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